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DOING SOME DIGGING – That happened … when?

Many of us have children in university, and this is the time of year that we wonder how they are doing as finals ap...


Many of us have children in university, and this is the time of year that we wonder how they are doing as finals approach. If students are diligently poring over the books, it seems only fair that CMJ readers stretch their brains a bit, too. Here are some highlights and lowlights from the “beginning” to about 100 years ago. The dates are taken from A Chronology of Minerals Development in Canada, which is posted on the NATURAL RESOURCES CANADA website. (Be prepared for pop quiz.)

► The earliest evidence of mining has been found on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Researchers believe a quartzite quarry was dug there more than 9,000 years ago.

► First Nations people traded in copper in the Lake Superior region as early as 4000 B.C. This is a thousand years before the Egyptians developed the earliest hieroglyphic writings.

► The Vikings mined bog iron in Newfoundland in 998 AD. The first modern iron discovery was made during Champlain’s voyage in 1604 in Nova Scotia.

► The first person who tried to make a profit from mining in Canada was Martin Frobisher in 1577. He took 200 tons of Baffin Island rock to Europe. He suffered the same disappointment as many modern prospectors: the rocks were worthless.

► The first coal mine in North America was probably near the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. It was shipping coal to Boston by 1639. It took another 38 years for the tax man to enter the picture when in 1677 the Intendant of New France imposed a royalty of 20 sous/ton of coal mined from Cape Breton.

► Canada’s first dispute concerning mineral ownership was reported in 1736 in New Brunswick. Natives opposed the landing of ships near Saint John and the transportation of quarried limestone to Port Royal.

► The earliest noted mining-related fatality occurred in 1770 during the mining of copper at Mica Bay on Lake Superior.

► The first mine shaft in Nova Scotia was sunk in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 1830.

► Canada’s first geological survey was founded in 1839 in Newfoundland. Three years later (1842) the federal government established the Geological Survey of Canada in Montreal.

► The first mention of a gold rush in Canada followed the discovery of free gold in Mitchell Harbour in the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1852. The Cariboo gold rush began in 1860. In 1866 a staking rush hit the area of Madoc, Ontario, when gold was first discovered in the Canadian Shield. Fortune hunters descended on the Klondike beginning in 1896.

► Records from 1862 indicate that the first conventional gold stamp mill was installed at Mooseland, Nova Scotia.

► McGill University created its first mining engineering program in 1870. My source had no reference as to how many students enrolled in the first program, but today the undergraduate program serves about 15-20 new students a year.

► There were ups and downs during 1873. The first diamond drill in Canada was used at the Silver Islet mine in Ontario. It was also the year of North America’s worst mining disaster to date when 60 men were killed in a colliery explosion in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

► The Geological Survey of Canada made its report on the Athabasca oil sands in 1887, 30 years after oil was discovered in Ontario. Development of the vast resource in Alberta took some years, however, with the mining of the first oil sands in 1913. Jump ahead to 1964 before Great Canadian Oil Sands began construction of today’s modern Suncor operation.

► The MacRay phosphate mine in Quebec was the first mine in that province to use electricity for motive power. The year was 1890. A year later, a Nova Scotia gold mine reported using portable electric-powered machinery.

► In 1893, the Brookfield mine in Nova Scotia became the first to apply cyanide leaching to gold recovery. The process had been developed six years earlier in Scotland in 1887, and it quickly spread to gold mines across Canada.

► The first mention that finding diamonds might be possible in Canada occurred in 1899. Here is a long lead-time for you: it was 99 years later that this country’s first diamond mine, Ekati, opened in the Northwest Territories.

► The first Canadian flotation plant was built in 1904 in Rossland, British Columbia. Cominco made the next leap in flotation technology in 1916 when it developed its differential flotation process to recover lead and zinc from the ore of its Sullivan mine.

Too many notable events took place in Canadian mining during the last 100 years to go over today. Perhaps another time.


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